Under the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, public schools can elect to receive federal funding for their meals programs, but they can be required to give back some of those funds if they fail to comply with certain rules. That’s what happened to two schools in Utah last week after they broke their agreement with the federal government by selling non-nutritious sodas during the school day.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), however, thinks that requiring schools to actually do what they agreed to do in order to receive federal funds is unconstitutional. He took to the floor shortly after these two schools were told to pay back some of the money they received to rail against the idea that public schools should keep their promises:
It was wrong for congress to invade the role of states. It was wrong to punish kids for these silly reasons. It is wrong to violate federalism. If a community, school, and their PTA. wanted to create the standards themselves, fine. It is wrong for this body to think that every issue has to be decided here in this room and it is wrong for us to forget that the 10th amendment has a purpose. . . . It is there for a reason and should be respected.
Requiring schools to keep their promises does not violate the Constitution — at least when those promises are made in order to receive federal funding. Moreover, if Bishop were correct that holding public schools or other state government bodies to their word is unconstitutional, than far more than health school lunches would be at stake. Bishop’s theory would also apply to other, similar, federal programs, including Medicaid. Like the school lunch program, Medicaid is a federal-state partnership in which the federal government gives the states money, with certain conditions, to implement a program that serves low income Americans. If Bishop’s constitutional argument successfully brought down the school lunch program, Medicare and other similar programs could be next.
Bishop will also have a tough time finding anything in the Constitution that supports his theory. The Constitution grants Congress the power to “lay and collect taxes” and “provide for the . . . general welfare of the United States.” This includes the federal government’s constitutional power to provide for the general welfare by funding state education or healthcare programs and imposing conditions on the way that money is used — and nothing in the language of the Tenth Amendment takes this power away. States are of course free to refuse federal money, but if they accept it they must abide by conditions that Congress attaches. Otherwise Congress would have no power to prevent states from taking billions of dollars in federal grants and spending the money on the salaries of state government officials.